Sometimes it seems like we hear a lot about learning disabilities, those who are afflicted with them as well as what to do about them. Unfortunately, the problem often begins before these kinds of questions: What are they? Simply stated, learning disabilities are an umbrella term for a number of different problems experienced by those who have difficulties learning. They are generally broken down into four types of learning disabilities. We’ll explore them in depth.
Types of Learning Disabilities
Dyslexia — Perhaps the most often heard of, dyslexia is a disorder that affects children and adults in their ability to process language. This includes reading, writing, spelling, and sometimes speaking.
Dyscalculia — Dyscalculia is a disorder that affects a person’s abilities in math. Dyscalculia is, again, an overarching term since there is no single type of math disability. Instead, the type or degree of dyscalculia a person has varies from person to another and can affect different people in different ways throughout their lives.
Dysgraphia — Closely related to dyslexia and ADD, Dysgraphia is another of the different types of learning disabilities, this one leading to problems with spelling, poor writing, and other issues related to putting thoughts on paper.
Dyspraxia — Although not directly considered a learning disability, Dyspraxia often coexists with learning disabilities and can affect situations that impact learning. People with dyspraxia have trouble with fine motor skills. These can range from very simple actions such as waving to someone to more complicated actions as brushing one’s teeth.
Whatever the type of learning disability a person might be dealing with, it is important to remember that they are not the result of low intelligence or laziness. Learning disabilities are neurological disorders that make it difficult for certain people to learn social and academic skills. It could also be possible that other issues such as ADD, vision, or hearing problems can be involved with a person’s learning problem.
Therapies and Treatments
Just because a person has one learning disability does not make him or her a failure or should necessarily compromise their potential. In fact, there are many famous and very successful people throughout history who have been diagnosed with or thought to have suffered with learning disabilities. This does not, however, make them “disabled.” Here are just a few:
* General George S. Patton, Jr., American general, dyslexia
* Tom Cruz, Actor, dyslexia
* Mary Tyler Moore, Actress, discalculia
* Cher, Singer/Actress, discalculia
* Agatha Christie, Writer, disgraphia
* Albert Einstein, Scientist, disgraphia
* Richard Branson, British entrepreneur, dyspraxia
* Daniel Radcliffe. Actor, dyspraxia
Many of those who suffer from learning disabilities learn to live with them by simply avoiding situations that would put them at risk of exposing their different types of disabilities. Others deal with them by learning coping mechanisms that help them get by with their disabilities.
For example, General George S. Patton, who suffered from dyslexia his whole life, was a notoriously bad speller as a result. When asked about this problem, the general would reply, “Any fool can spell a word the same way every time.” So much for a disability. It is also interesting to note that when General Patton would give a speech or other address, he would write the speech or have it written for him, then memorize it for recitation later since he had considerable trouble reading a speech that had been prepared. This is not denying the fact that his dyslexia caused him considerable trouble throughout his life, most notably in his efforts to gain acceptance to the US Military Academy as well as to keep his standing once he had gained admission.
While there is considerable debate over diagnosis of a learning disability, there is even more when it comes to treatment of these problems. In the past the focus on treatment have been on those who meet the criteria of learning disabilities. There is a growing trend, however, on screening in an effort to detect those young people who meet the early characteristics of having a learning disability before that disability might be readily detectable. This approach is called response to intervention. This allows therapists to work with these youngsters before learning disabilities are fully evident and causing trouble in school, especially when they are to the point that the student might need more intensive and expensive special education programs. Further, it is at this stage that it is easiest and most effective to create specially tailored programs that can address these individual problems with learning. It is also easier at these early stages for parents, teachers, and therapists to work with students with these problems.
There are many standardized testing methods available today that can effectively identify those who currently are afflicted with or are at risk of developing learning disabilities. These tests encompass the primary educational domains of reading, which includes word recognition, comprehension and fluency; mathematics, which includes computation and problem solving; and writing, which includes handwriting, spelling, and comprehension. These areas are all broken down further through specialized test, but this goes beyond the scope of this article.
It is very important that whomever is responsible for making assessments that they do so carefully, going so far as to allow only those persons who are qualified to make such assessments to do them. This is because many individuals who could be identified as learning disabled could instead be afflicted with other situations that might be misidentified such as the person identified with a learning disability, but is instead suffering from dementia or Down syndrome. These persons could very easily fit the profile but not meet the clinical signs and symptoms, rendering the evaluation incorrect.
It is also worth noting that since the response to intervention idea came to light in 2008, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of students being identified with learning disabilities. This is because of the immediate intervention that is made possible as well as more practical to reach these students before problems have a chance to surface. Interestingly, these intervention methods can be as simple as placing a student’s chair closer to the front of the classroom in order to give that student more individualized attention during a class in which he or she might be having or suspected of having a problem. This is a simple solution, to be sure, but one that illustrates the simplicity of dealing with these problems effectively when they are identified and dealt with and when professionals are in a position to make accurate diagnosis when the problem is in the infancy stages. The future of students depends on it.